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How Elon Musk Envisions Transforming Mars into Another Earth
Elon Musk has a pretty ambitious plan to get humans to live on Mars in 40 years. Here's the tech that'll make that happen.
Elon Musk has a pretty ambitious plan to get humans to live on Mars in 40 years. The key part, as he announced yesterday at the International Aeronautical Conference, is creating technology that would bring the cost of the journey down and bring enough people and supplies to Mars to create a self-sustaining civilization.
In order to do that, Musk and his private space development company SpaceX need to bring the cost of a Mars mission down from $10,000,000,000 per person to $200,000. They identified 4 main ways to do that: 1) creating fully reusable spacecraft; 2) refueling them in orbit; 3) producing propellant on Mars, and; 4) using the right propellant.
SpaceX is tackling the reusability problem by building the rocket in 3 separate sections: the spaceship, the rocket booster, and the propellant tanker. They’re rethinking the design components of all 3 of those sections, too. For starters, the rocket needs to be bigger. WAY bigger:
See that tiny dot at the bottom right of the ship? That’s a person. Credit: SpaceX
That might seem excessive, but not to Musk. “The rocket needs to be about this size to fit 100 people in the pressurized section, plus luggage, cargo, propellant plants, iron foundries, pizza joints. We need to carry a lot of cargo.”
Musk theorized that SpaceX most likely be able to expand the crew section and bring closer to 200 people to minimize the number of trips. He also clarified that they’ll flat-pack all the cargo to maximize speed and efficiency. Then he broke down the math: “If a civilization needs 1 million people, [if we bring] 100 people per ship that’s 10,000 trips.” How exactly is all that stuff supposed to fit? Like this:
The interior of the Mars spaceship. Credit: SpaceX
“In order to make people want to go, it’s gotta be really fun,” Musk said about the design. “We have to design it like people see in the movies. Not cramped. Lots of room to move.”
Aside from being a fun design, the rocket is being built out of carbon fiber. SpaceX chose carbon fiber because it’s a durable material that wouldn’t require a separate liner, decreasing the mass of the overall ship. But carbon fiber tends to crack at a large scale, so “it’s a huge technical challenge to make cryogenic tanks out of it,” Musk admitted. “It’s just really hard to make huge carbon fiber structures that can do [all the things we need it to] and carry incredible loads.”
But his team is trying. And they’ve already built the first tank.
1) The crew standing outside the Mars rocket tank. Credit: Space X. 2&3) The inside of the Mars rocket tank. Credit: SpaceX
“This is the hardest part so we wanted to tackle it first,” Musk said of the tank. “Carbon dioxide and oxygen will need to be gassified [sic] though tanks into the engine. That powers the ship.” That’s much simpler than the Falcon 9 rocket’s system, which uses five ingredients: nitrogen, helium, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and an ignition chemical. The team worked 7 days a week to get the tank done in time for IAC. Thus far, their efforts are paying off. “Initial tests look positive,” Musk said. “We haven’t seen any leaks.”
As encouraging as that is, the tank will still need to prove its reusability. “Spaceships last 30 years,” Musk explained. “They’ll take 12 to 15 flights at most, so we need to maximize the cargo and reuse the booster and tanker a lot.” The tanks will require between 3 and 5 trips filling trips from separate propellant tankers as the spaceship sits in orbit, waiting for the Mars rendezvous.
The next part of the ship SpaceX is working on is the rocket booster. The booster will act “like a javelin thrower,” Musk said, directing and accelerating the ship to 8,650 km/hour or 5,375 mph. Once it’s kicked the spaceship off towards Mars, it’ll come back to Earth in “20 minutes,” according to Musk.
The booster will be still be a “high-pressure turbo pump fed with cool proponent,” Musk said, but it’ll be simpler to build than the tanks because SpaceX is essentially scaling up their Falcon 9. The biggest difference is that it’ll be made of carbon fiber.
Remember, all of those pieces have to get back from Mars in order to make this plan feasible. Again, Musk’s solution is to build a propellant plant on Mars using methane as the ship’s primary fuel source. Here’s the breakdown of how that’s going to happen:
So now that we've seen the details of Musk's 4-step plan to get people on Mars, the real question is how much will the whole system cost. Musk has a chart for that, too:
“That is quite expensive,” Musk admits. He expects to "generate decent cash flow from launching satellites” with SpaceX and also ferrying items to the International Space Station. There’s also private sector interest as well, prompting Musk to admit that he knows this project will ultimately be a huge public-private partnership. “As we show that this dream can be someday made real, the support will snowball over time.”
That support is likely, as Musk’s dream doesn’t end at Mars. He hopes his rocket system will take us even further than that. “We have the basic system,” he said, “provided we have filling stations along the way. That gives access to the greater solar system.” Musk theorized about visiting Saturn’s Enceladus moon, Jupiter’s Europa moon, and even past Pluto and into deep space. “We’d need a different system for interstellar journeys,” Musk admitted, but it’s in the back of his mind.
What the Mars rocket would look like on Europa. Credit: SpaceX/Flickr
Musk is so dedicated to the idea that “the main reason I’m personally accumulating assets is to fund this.”
SpaceX began in 2002 “with a carpet and a mariachi band,” as Musk put it. It’s now a pioneering space company at the forefront of technical innovation. It will find a way to make us a multiplanetary species. The only question is when.
In case you thought he was kidding about the mariachi band. Credit: SpaceX
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.